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Captive Flying Machines, Blackpool
Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Blackpool, Lancashire, UK
<em>Captive Flying Machines</em>, Blackpool
associated engineer
Sir Hiram Maxim
date  opened 1st August 1904
era  Modern  |  category  Amusement Structure  |  reference  SD304334
ICE reference number  HEW 1738
photo  Ian H. Thompson / ICE R&D Fund
On Blackpool's Pleasure Beach is an extraordinary survivor from the history of fairground rides. After more than 100 hundred years of service, two world wars and a local tidal wave, Hiram Maxim's Captive Flying Machines, as he first called the ride, is still going strong.
American-born inventor, Hiram Maxim, well known for the Maxim machine gun and his work on steam-powered flight, was looking for a way to fund his armaments business. He came up with the idea of constructing a fairground ride by adapting a mechanism he had been using but had not invented to explore the efficiency of wing designs for planes.
The idea was to give the public an opportunity to experience the sensation of flight. A series of cars ('flying machines') attached by arms to a central rotating upright would 'fly' through the air. Modifications had to be made to his prototype, which was constructed at Thurlow Park in Norwood. His assistant passed out during testing, a result of the speed the ride was running at. Maxim had wanted the cars to have wings and aerofoils but this proved too dangerous. The first public-access Captive Flying Machines ride was installed at Earl's Court in London in May 1904.
Although the ride was popular, it broke down part-way through the season and didn't make enough money. Its project construction cost had been 3,000 but in the actual cost was more like 7,000. Maxim decided that more would have be constructed to make the venture profitable. Further rides were erected in 1904 at Crystal Palace (at Sydenham), Southport, New Brighton and Blackpool. The Blackpool ride is the sole survivor.
Maxim's machine is the forerunner of many copies and variations, though few are as large as the machine at Blackpool. It has ten cars, each 6m long and carrying four passengers sitting one behind the other. These cars are about the only things that have been altered over the years Maxim would recognise pretty well everything else about the structure. The ride's name has changed to 'The Flying Machines'.
The machine consists of a central steel lattice-work tower, square in section and tapering. Its four legs are some 300mm in section, and the whole is braced with 100mm x 100mm x 13mm angle irons bolted to gusset plates welded to the columns. Rising up through the centre of the tower is an 840mm diameter iron column 18.9m high from which the cars are suspended.
Wire ropes lead out from the central column, held in the correct position by ten Columbian pine cleated booms, which radiate out from the centre making a diameter of 13.7m. Each car is supported by four wire ropes connected to two booms. The bases of the cars are 17.4m below the tips of the booms. When the ride is running, the cars are free to swing out below the booms up to an angle of 30-34 degrees. At full speed, the ride travels at ten revolutions per minute, and can reach this speed in 90 seconds from a standing start.
At the bottom of the central column, in the machine room, is a large-toothed horizontal gear wheel driven by bevelled pinions. Two identical 50hp Lister electric motors, with 990mm diameter drive wheels, deliver drive via six ropes to the main 3.6m diameter fly wheels. The ropes were originally made of cotton. Up to 1989, the drive ropes had only had to be replaced once.
The machine has no breaks. On the central column are slip-rings that transfer electric current to the ride and power its decorative lighting. Below the drive mechanisms, the foot of the drive column rests in an oil bath.
The entrance stairs from ground level date from 1989. You can now view the workings of the machinery though a purpose-made viewing window installed in 1975.
Electric motors: Lister of Dursley
Metal castings: Robinson & Cook, Lancashire
Research: PD, JJ, ND
Coaster Kingdom online pages : http://www.s104638357.websitehome.co.uk/html/flyingmachines_main.htm

Captive Flying Machines, Blackpool